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Glycobiology. 2018 Apr 1;28(4):172-181. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwy001.

Galectin-3 and cancer stemness.

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Department of Oncology, School of Medicine, Wayne State University, Karmanos Cancer Institute, 421 East Canfield, Detroit, MI 48201, USA.
Karmanos Cancer Institute, 421 East Canfield, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48201, USA.
Department of Pathology, School of Medicine, 540 East Canfield, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48201, USA.


Over the last few decades galectin-3, a carbohydrate binding protein, with affinity for N-acetyllactosamine residues, has been unique due to the regulatory roles it performs in processes associated with tumor progression and metastasis such as cell proliferation, homotypic/heterotypic aggregation, dynamic cellular transformation, migration and invasion, survival and apoptosis. Structure-function association of galectin-3 reveals that it consists of a short amino terminal motif, which regulates its nuclear-cytoplasmic shuttling; a collagen α-like domain, susceptible to cleavage by matrix metalloproteases and prostate specific antigen; accountable for its oligomerization and lattice formation, and a carbohydrate-recognition/binding domain containing the anti-death motif of the Bcl2 protein family. This structural complexity permits galectin-3 to associate with numerous molecules utilizing protein-protein and/or protein-carbohydrate interactions in the extra-cellular as well as intracellular milieu and regulate diverse signaling pathways, a number of which appear directed towards epithelial-mesenchymal transition and cancer stemness. Self-renewal, differentiation, long-term culturing and drug-resistance potential characterize cancer stem cells (CSCs), a small cell subpopulation within the tumor that is thought to be accountable for heterogeneity, recurrence and metastasis of tumors. Despite the fact that association of galectin-3 to the tumor stemness phenomenon is still in its infancy, there is sufficient direct evidence of its regulatory roles in CSC-associated phenotypes and signaling pathways. In this review, we have highlighted the available data on galectin-3 regulated functions pertinent to cancer stemness and explored the opportunities of its exploitation as a CSC marker and a therapeutic target.

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